Movies in Theaters on Friday, October 21, 2011
Halloween must be upon us, as this weekend is all about getting freaked out, whether it be by a demon that likes to slam people's heads into tables (Paranormal Activity 3), a creepy cult in the Catskills (Martha Marcy May Marlene), a crazed and bleeding Jamie Bell (Retreat) or the imminent disintegration of our entire financial foundation (Margin Call). Which of these will freak you out?
Kudos to Paramount for resisting the urge to go with considerably larger budgets for the Paranormal Activity sequels; by keeping with the original DIY home video approach, the studio has managed to maintain the spirit (heh heh) and integrity of what remains a fantastic and frightening horror film with each new installment. Paranormal Activity 2 was clever in expanding the aesthetic while not necessarily making it "bigger" (why have only one camera set up in one room when you can have several all over the house?), so it will be interesting to see what "expansion" tricks the third installment has up its sleeve while still keeping things small-scale and intimate. One thing's for sure -- Paranormal Activity 3 is dropping the slow-burn creepiness of its predecessors and going for all-out Poltergeist-style terror this time; most of the trailer consists of shots of various characters getting thrown across rooms, slammed into tables and yanked back violently by really pissed off invisible forces. The Paranormal Activity franchise is definitely throwing itself a frantic-looking goodbye party, through do you honestly think this is going to be the last bit of Activity? We highly doubt it -- a franchise consisting of films that make about twenty times what they cost doesn't just stop.
This Sundance darling stars Elizabeth Olsen (an Olsen Non-Twin) as Martha, a young woman trying to piece her life -- and mind -- back together after she escapes from a cult led by a manipulative guitar-playing patriarch (John Hawkes). Fantasy, reality and memory all blend into a fractured dreamscape in this moody thriller that many are calling this year's Winter's Bone (in which -- speak of the devil -- Hawkes played the brooding uncle, Teardrop) -- a pretty ballsy claim, as Winter's Bone was, like, maybe the best film of 2010. The trailer for Martha Marcy May Marlene goes heavy on the dread as Elizabeth Olsen proves she ain't her sisters' sister (probably a very conscious career choice on her part) as she delivers what looks like a devastating performance as the victim of a "family" that bent her sense of space, time and identity (see the title). Expect to feel constantly squirmy-uncomfortable at this one -- we're betting that Sean Durkin definitely earned that Sundance directing award.
What is it with Jamie Bell? The former Billy Elliot has grown up to be an even more high-strung (and creepier) actor than Ben Foster. Really, he seemed like he was going to implode from his own intensity in Jumper -- and now, in what looks like an interesting variation on the great Nicole Kidman thriller, Dead Calm (remember that one?), he looks like he's capable of being the cause of the "global epidemic" that he's so freaked out about. Cillian Murphy and Thandie Newton play a married couple in crisis spending time on an isolated island in an attempt to recover from a personal tragedy; their self-therapy is interrupted by the sudden appearance of a frantic wounded man who claims they've got to put themselves under quarantine as some sort of virus spreads rapidly throughout the mainland. They have no phone, no radio and no television, so they have to make the call on their own -- is this guy telling the truth, or is he as whacko as Billy Zane? The cast definitely has what it takes to pull off a high-tension chamber drama -- let's hope the writers (Janice Hallett and Carl Tibbetts) and director (Tibbetts) do, too.
A film that turns the beginnings of the 2008 financial crisis into a taut after-hours thriller, Margin Call makes its big money power players seem like super-spies as they desperately try to keep Wall Street -- and the very foundation of the American dollar -- from completely disappearing. Jeremy Irons plays the corrupt suit who claims that to succeed in business -- and, indeed, in life -- you have to "be first, be smarter or cheat," and Margin Call looks like it's going to cover all three approaches and several in-between. It's good to see Kevin Spacey as part of this ensemble, which also includes Zachary Quinto (sans superpowers or Vulcan ears), Demi Moore, Simon Baker, Paul Bettany (finally getting a chance to play a real-world character in a real-world story), Penn Badgley and Stanley Tucci -- we don't know how first-time feature writer/director J.C. Chandor managed to gather such an amazing cast for his debut, but we're sure the film is all the better for it. The main challenge, however, will be making us actually care about these investment bankers as they sweat and toil through what many don't exactly consider to be "honest" work.